"Art concerned with Movement through Space, and so with Time...has become the most important element in the Art of the 20th Century. It took till this Century to discover the Art of Movement." --Len Lye

The Art of Movement


While the tools of the trade may differ, animation and choreography are both attempts to create movement in order to evoke an emotional response. The effect depends on an aesthetically pleasing arrangement of shapes in combination with a sense of timing. Animators use drawing, painting, and computers, while choreographers use their bodies. Both rely on similar compositional elements, such as rhythm, repetition, balance, variation, space, and contrast, while adding in the extra component of time.


A Picture of Jules Engel
The best example of the correlation between animation and choreography is the work of Jules Engel. Jules Engel was a renowned animator and creator of the CalArts Program in Experimental Animation. His most well-known work is his contribution to the Disney film "Fantasia", for which he story-boarded the dance sequences, "The Chinese Dance", "The Russian Dance", and "The Dance of Hours".


Balanchine's <i>Cotillon</i>, Ballet Russse de Monte Carlo
Jules Engel was fascinated with the expressiveness of movement. He was first inspired by the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo, choreographed by George Balanchine. Although Engel doesn't mention the specific ballet, it was most likely "Cotillon", in 1932. Engel stated that while watching the performance, "...my own vision began to emerge. Viewing the spectacular unity of body, choreography and music, all with perfect precision, displayed infinite possibilities of gesture."


The Vase by Jules Engel
In addition to Ballet, Modern Dance was a further inspiration for Engel's art. Modern Dance was beginning to gain some recognition, and one of the most important Modern dancers and choreographers was Martha Graham.


According to Engel, "With the modern dance of Martha Graham, I perceived how contemporary art could lead the way for new visions in movement, where emotional flow and counterpoint would prove equally stunning."


Martha Graham
Armed with an "infinite possibilities of gesture", Engel's main artistic focus was experimental animation, what he called "graphic choreography" and "Color Field Painting in Time". These were short abstract animations that bridged the gap between abstract expressionism and post-modernism. "Abstract film is a language that speaks directly to the eye - and to the feelings, as does dance; they are both visual arts.


"What I found so wonderfully compelling about [Engel's] work was how it captured the best of what choreography can accomplish, but generally fails to when performed live in the theater. Not only is [the] work constructed to direct the audience's eye to a subtle, minute and particular gesture or shape, but in a manner which can be achieved in a fleeting instant. With just a few images a rhythm is generated that elaborates upon itself; five images which began moving in unison, subsequently break into a canon and then a fugue. These images, while still retaining their initial quality, permutate, providing 1 2 5 variations on a theme, each compelling and mesmerizing. This use of repetition and the subtle variations that naturally arise, embodies choreography at its most successful." --Janice Margolis, Dancer/Choreographer




Martha Graham

More Information about Jules Engel and Martha Graham